By Oregon State University
For the Oregon Beer Growler
Barley has always played second fiddle to hops and yeast when it comes to flavoring beer. Now the grain is ready for its solo.
In two studies published this week in the “Journal of the American Society of Brewing Chemists,” a research team led by Oregon State University found notable differences in the taste of beers malted from barley varieties reputed to have flavor qualities.
Consumers aren’t going to see a barley-flavored brew anytime soon in their local pub or grocery store, but the findings are an important first step toward a potential new market for beer connoisseurs, said OSU barley breeder Pat Hayes.
We started this project with a question: Are there novel flavors in barley that carry through malting and brewing and into beer? This is a revolutionary idea in the brewing world. We found that the answer is yes, Hayes said. These positive beer flavor attributes provide new opportunities for brewers and expand horizons for consumers.
In its malted form, barley is the principal source of fermentable sugars for most beers. But barley’s flavor contributions to beer are usually ascribed to the malting process rather than the grain itself.
Barley World, Hayes’ research group at OSU, with financial support from the beer industry, began with two barley varieties thought to have positive flavor attributes in beer: Golden Promise, developed and released in Great Britain, and OSU’s own barley variety, Full Pint. They then crossbred the two. That resulted in several hundred breeding lines of genetic seed stock. Researchers grew the offspring in test plots in Corvallis, Lebanon and Madras.
But there was a logistical challenge in preparing that barley for brewing and sensory testing. OSU’s progeny of Golden Promise and Full Pint each yielded only about 200 grams of malt — not enough for a reasonable sample to produce large quantities of beer for a standard sensory panel.
That’s when OSU teamed with Minnesota-based Rahr Malting Company and New Glarus Brewing in Wisconsin. The companies had developed a brewing system that could produce a single bottle of beer from each unique malt. Dustin Herb, a graduate student in OSU’s College of Agricultural Sciences, spent almost a year at Rahr participating in the micro-malting, nano-brewing and sensory processes.
Out of that initial partnership, about 150 beers were prepared for sensory testing. Each panelist tasted the beers once and then rated them on a scale in their amount of difference compared to an industry standard control beer.
The panelists found that beer brewed with Golden Promise scored significantly higher in fruity, floral and grassy flavors. Beer with Full Pint was significantly higher in malty, toffee and toasted flavors.
The progeny are showing all possible combinations of those traits. And, since researchers had been conducting DNA fingerprinting on these progeny, they can now assign certain regions of the barley genome as being responsible for these flavors. The study also found that there were some differences based on where the barley was grown, but the genetic effect was larger than the environment.
Based on the results of more Golden Promise-Full Pint progeny, finer structure genetic mapping of barley flavor genes is underway with Rahr. Researchers are also working with Deschutes Brewery in Bend to produce more representative beers from three of the selected progeny. OSU is producing 100 pounds of malt of each variety as well as a control sample called Copeland.
All three have unique flavor attributes and are relatively easy to grow. They have outstanding malt profiles. Deschutes is prepared to brew the same beer twice for each of those three and compare that to the control. Those beers are then destined to be sent to other brewers who will conduct their own sensory panels.
In addition to Herb, OSU Barley Project members Tanya Filichkin, Scott Fisk and Laura Helgerson contributed to the research. Collaborators included scientists in England, Canada, Scotland, Spain and the U.S.
The project received funding from the following breweries: Bell’s Brewery, Deschutes Brewery, Firestone Walker Brewing Company, New Glarus Brewing Company, Russian River Brewing Company, Sierra Nevada Brewing Company and Summit Brewing Company. The Brewers Association, an organization of small and independent craft brewers, also contributed financially. Mecca Grade Estate Malt and OreGro Seeds hosted the field trials.
By Dustin Gouker
For the Oregon Beer Growler
The harvest this year at Mecca Grade Estate Malt was more about the future than the present.
After harvesting a full 300 acres of Full Pint barley and overproducing in 2016 to fill up its storage, the farm and malthouse outside of Madras grew by just 40 acres this year.
But in that same field were 30 different selections for The Next Pint Project, a partnership with Oregon State University for breeding a new variety of barley that will eventually be used by Mecca Grade. (The Full Pint variety was also bred by OSU.)
It was the second of a three-year program. Last year, there were 130 crosses planted at the farm, whittled down to 30 this season based on a variety of factors, eliminating strains that didn’t work out.
After this year’s harvest, the field is down to eight, with the goal of selecting one variety that the farm will produce moving forward, according to co-founder Seth Klann.
“The selection criteria will be based on finished beer for that variety,” said Klann. “We’re looking for something bred exclusively for our conditions in Central Oregon, our irrigation, and hopefully we find some sort of unique flavor, because that’s what it’s all about.”
Barley is often an afterthought for breweries, but Mecca Grade — which raises its own barley and also malts it on the premises — is trying to change that. Most malt for brewing in North America comes from a few large producers. But by farming its own unique barley and malting it, the business is creating a niche for itself in the craft brew industry.
“Because we’re an estate malt house, people ask us ‘Well does all your stuff come from your own farm?’ And I answer ‘Yes,’” said Klann, who runs the farm with his father. “And I think it surprises a lot of people, because even other craft malt houses are having to source from all over the place.
“So everything comes off of our own family farm. And I know that it limits production, but on the other hand the only people that are invested in it are me and my dad,” Klann continued. “We’re not set up to have explosive growth and become this huge thing, and I know the brewers we work with don’t want that either. So as long as we can keep things slow and steady and putting out really rare reserved malt, that’s what we are going to do.”
The list of brewers and beers using Mecca Grade’s malts is constantly growing. (You can see a full lineup on the website.) The Ale Apothecary in Bend now makes all its beer with Mecca Grade malt. Yachats Brewing on the coast uses it for about 95 percent of its beer, according to Klann.
This fall, you’ll see beers using this year’s harvest at Hood River’s pFriem Family Brewers and Logsdon Farmhouse Ales, Klann said. Deschutes Brewery, which has produced several beers using Mecca Grade’s product, has another beer in the making that will feature the farm’s crop.
“We’re going through the process of getting all of our barley certified Salmon-Safe, and that’s been big for Deschutes, and it’s been big for Crux [Fermentation Project],” Klann said.
But Oregon craft breweries are not the only destination for Mecca Grade’s malt. About half of it goes to California; its pilsner-style malts are being used in hazy IPAs.
“Our malt is definitely not cheap, and I think in Oregon the price is going up, but it kind of prohibits people from experimenting with better and more local ingredients,” Klann said. “But down there the price has already gone up, so people are just kind of chasing after the next secret ingredient for making better beer.”
Beer makers as far away as Allagash Brewing Company in Maine have also used Mecca Grade.
If you’re looking for Mecca Grade malt for your homebrew, you can find it at retailers in Portland (F.H. Steinbart Co.), Bend (The Brew Shop) and Corvallis (Corvallis Brewing Supply).
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